On market days the town comes alive with farmers arriving with fresh crops, women carrying baskets on their heads. New vegetables were added to our menu. Dinner today was cassava (long tube-like root), garden eggs (look like small yellowish eggplants), okra, local red rice, local cowpeas (beans), avocado, and sardines from Morocco. Joyce, Mabel and Albright were busy in the kitchen, pounding cassava and plantain for their fufu.
Oswald works for The Hunger Project in Ghana, an NGO, based in New York,that operates in seven African countries. On Friday, he drove us to Ho to the site of the future Airfield School.
The children swept the ground and collected the trash with their bare hands. Some walked to school carrying long knives/ machetes. They were going to weed the school ground. Weeds breed mosquitoes and malaria. Parents arrived later.
Benny invited the community for a meeting. We were expecting about thirty people and hoping for more. They came. All seventy seats were occupied; men sat on one side, women on the other, babies wrapped in colorful cloths tied to their backs. People stood at the back and sat on the grass. They were all there: Sammy the chief, Prosper the community spokesperson, the young and the old.
They heard promises for so many years. Plans went from grand to the most simple. Now they were expecting to build only four classrooms pavilion style – just a good floor, a roof and partial walls. Benny and Ellen Berenholz decided to build all eight classrooms and an administration building.
Benny spoke and Oswald translated: Pagus:Africa will pay for the material and the skilled labor. All unskilled and semi-skilled labor is the responsibility of the community. The community is responsible for the security of the construction site and materials. They are responsible for having the site plan drawn. They will bring the pegs and line to mark the construction site. They will provide water to the construction site, carrying water from the borehole. They will bring whatever tools they have, shovels, wheel barrels, brick molds. They will make all the cement bricks for the buildings and will be responsible for food for the workers.
“I am taking my commitment to you very seriously and I hope that you will be ten times more committed to the project”, Benny told the crowd. “I came to Ghana for a short time, but if I have your cooperation, I will stay to see the school completed”………..clapping, cheering…….
(OOPPPPPPPPSSSSSSSSSS, Benny, are we going to stay here for four months?????? and I already pictured myself making bricks and painting a large rainbow on the new school front….)
Prosper , the community spokesperson, called the “elders” for a side-meeting to elect a project leader who will act as the contact person between the community, Benny and the Contractor. They voted for Sammy, the young chief. They also elected a female leader.
“Often the men cannot control the women.”, Oswald explained to us.
“When do we start?” someone asked. “Right now”, Benny responded.
“You can start clearing the building site.”
At the end of our meeting, they recited their prayers, rearranged the chairs into a large circle and started another meeting. There was an excitement in the air.
We will have to move to Ho. Ida, the head teacher offered us a room in her home. Lovely home but too far from the center and we need more than corn fields and goats to sustain our lives. Prosper also offered us a place. We also checked a few reasonable hotels. Next week we will spend time in Ho, looking for suitable accommodation.
At Bishop Forson School Complex the kids are on mid-term break. School runs twelve months a year with short breaks. I was teaching some classes, observing classes, worked with a few students, but mostly I was busy with administration work for Pagus:Africa, keeping the sponsored children records updated. It is an on-going challenge since the internet connection is so unreliable.
Morning assembly at Forson School looks like a military drill. They march around the campus to the rhythm of the drums, waiving their arms high. Discipline is very strict at the School. They abolished caning, even though it is a regular practice at schools in Ghana. Instead, students who are late or misbehave are sent to fill-up buckets with stones. Later, they pour the stones on the muddy road. Others are sent to weed the corn field.
I asked the 4th graders what do they want to be when they grow-up. Most boys wanted to be pilots or football players. We also had a wish for president, ministry of education, speaker of the house, judge, journalist, doctor, engineer, pastor, nurse, accountant and a bank manager.
“who is going to work in the farms?” I asked them…
“Do you white ladies also menstruate?” the teenage girls wanted to know.
Their favorite subject in school is English. They speak English only at school. At home and among themselves they speak Ewe. Their favorite food: rice and stew.
Karen, my daughter, is going to sponsor five students through Pagus:Africa this year. Education is the only way to help these kids get out of poverty.